Please Get Rid Of The Knob & Tube Wiring!

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams Realty Tampa, Florida

One of the most important revelations of a home inspection I attended yesterday was that the home, built in the 1940's, still has some live knob and tube wiring. Why was this important? Well, my client will be unable to obtain basic homeowners insurance on this home as long as this old wiring is still active. No insurance-no loan-no deal!

Knob And Tube Wiring

This wiring type was used in homes built prior to the '50's and does not include a ground wire, making it unsafe it the eyes of many insurers, including Citizens, the insurer of last resort in Florida. The cloth insulation deteriorates over time as well, making it a fire hazard.

So where do we go from here? Anytime I represent a client on the purchase of an older home, I make sure to have an inspection contingency that gives the buyer the right to cancel for any reason, based on the results of the inspections, be they a home inspection, pest (termite) inspection, structural inspection, etc. Most sellers, in this market especially, will accept such a contingency as long as the right to cancel period expires after a reasonable amount of time.

But in this case, the seller will not be able to sell the home to a buyer who needs a loan to purchase the home. Without insurance, the loan cannot be obtained and the buyer has an out, and the right to get her deposit refunded. 

So the seller has to look for a cash buyer, who would not need insurance prior to closing, or remedy the problem. So the next step is an estimate to replace the old stuff with the new stuff. We'll then ask Mr. Seller to pay for this replacement. And if the seller refuses? Then we'll most likely play the right to cancel card and walk away from the deal.

The sellers could have made things easier on themselves by getting a home inspection prior to putting the home on the market. A good inspector would have notified the seller of the problem and the seller could have made the repairs beforehand. I always suggest a pre-listing home inspection. Sure, there is some additional upfront costs, but correcting this problem in advance could go a long way in making the sales process flow much more smoothly. 

My client is a first time buyer, so this is something that immediately puts a bad taste in her mouth. The old wiring, along with some of the other old-house issues, may be enough to make her play the right to cancel card without asking for the wiring fix. We'll see.

Sellers: Consider a pre-listing home inspection. If you have active knob and tube wiring in your home, nix it before trying to find a buyer!



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Jeff Dowler, CRS
Solutions Real Estate - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude - Carlsbad
Interesting article - brings back memories of my real estate biz in the boston area (where a huge % of the homes are old, many over 100 years). Knob and tube was always cropping up, as was asbestos (especially the old "snowmen"), lead paint, cracked cast iron pipes, cracked beams, slanting floors (oh yes, the marble test), and more. It was always a challenge, and yet many people understand these issues adn are, to some extent, accustomed to them.
Nov 30, 2006 05:05 AM #3
Lenny Gurvich
Keller Williams Realty Tampa, Florida - Tampa, FL


For new policies, my client is pretty much limited to Citizens here in Florida. The current insurer will most likely not issue a new policy but that is something we'll certainly check to see. Thanks for the comment.


Unfortunately this home has most of those issues, but it is expected in this particular area of Tampa (Seminole Heights).

Nov 30, 2006 05:15 AM #4
Christopher Howard
Fillmore Real Estate - Brooklyn, NY

Jeff:  Here in Brooklyn,we have many of the same problems since so much of our Brooklyn housing  stock is, like Boston's over a 100 years old.

Lenny: good post!

Nov 30, 2006 05:22 AM #5
Michael S. Mackey
CENTURY 21 All Islands - Mililani, HI
Thanks for this post. I don't see too many really old homes here in Honolulu, so I didn't even know that old paper insulation was called "knob and tube". When we find old homes here (c.1960's) we keep an eye out for aluminum wires. I haven't had to deal with any issue with that, but one day I'm sure it will pop up.
Nov 30, 2006 05:26 AM #6
Teresa Boardman
Boardman Realty - Saint Paul, MN
My own home is full of knob and tube wiring.  We won't take it out.  There is only one room in the house where the wires are actually being used as we upgraded the electrical system a decade ago.  If anyone does reomve knob and tube wiring I'll pay the postage if you send me the knobs.  Honest I am not kidding.
Nov 30, 2006 05:52 AM #7
Jim & Maria Hart
Brand Name Real Estate - Charleston, SC
Charleston, SC Real Estate
Thanks for the info!  Having the seller's do a pre-listing home inspection can forego a lot of headache, especially in older homes.  Great point!
Nov 30, 2006 06:48 AM #8
Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Great information.  It's amazing how homes can still be around that have never had the electrical upgraded. 

I'll pass this informatio on to my agents.  Just something else to watch our for.

Nov 30, 2006 06:58 AM #9
Ginger Fawcett
Live Local Real Estate Group - Kirkwood, MO

My dad and grandfather are long time contractors and they say that the hoopla over knob and tube is waaaaay over-rated.  My father tells me he'll take knob and tube any day over aluminium wiring which was installed in the 70's.

I have a 100 year old arts and crafts bungalow and I have owned several other historic homes.  All have some knob and tube.  I have never had a problem with insurance as long as the wires were not frayed or were taped well and if the main electric box and connections were newer/upgraded.  My insurance company came out and inspected (Chubbs) and didn't have a problem with anything.

If you live in an area full of historic homes (like I do) you will quickly find out who is willing to insure these homes.  Our local building inspectors do not raise any unusual red flags when a home has knob and tube.  Most inspectors who have been around a while realize it's not the "bad" stuff everyone claims it to be. 

I had a house fire ten years ago in my 100 year old victorian. Most of the house was knob and tube.  However the fire started in a 15 year old family room addition.  You just never can tell.

Nov 30, 2006 07:00 AM #10
Randy Prothero
eXp Realty - Mililani, HI
Hawaii REALTOR, (808) 384-5645
I don't run into that in Hawaii.  The termites take the home down before they get that old.  LOL
Nov 30, 2006 07:16 AM #11
John Hruska
Homes Charlotte, LLC - Charlotte, NC
Never saw that before.  I learn something new everyday !
Nov 30, 2006 07:30 AM #12
"The Lovely Wife" (Broker Bryantnulls Wife) The One And Only TLW.
President-Tutas Towne Realty, Inc. - Kissimmee, FL


Yup. That's a deal killer alright.

To the best of my knowledge the reason this is a deal killer is because the live wires without a ground throw sparks? Which creates a fire hazard.

I am I right about that? It's been a long time since I have seen it...

TLW "The Lovely Wife"...Home Inspections Are A Must Do...ROAR!

Nov 30, 2006 08:13 AM #13
Rich Schiffer
Swarthmore, PA
Referral Agent, e-PRO
Personally, I live in a farmhouse built in 1754.  I think Ben Franklin was the initial electrician.  We bought the property as is, and immediately had to dump about $9000 into upgrading the electric, including getting rid of the knob and tube.   With all the colonial era homes in my area (greater Philadelphia) there is still a lot of that out there, I am sure, although there isnt a single municipality where the building codes or fire codes haven't essentially outlawed it.  It has to be replaced in order to get insurance, refinancing, building permits, etc.
Nov 30, 2006 08:40 AM #14
Adam Tarr
MavRealty - Phoenix, AZ
PC -GRI, ABR, CDPE, RSPS, ePro - Designated Broker
In a previous life I sold and installed alarm systems in the Philly area.  Many of the old homes still had this type of wiring.  When you get beyond the charm of it, from a safety standard, and more savvy buyers, it just makes sense especially on older properties to avoid the hassles, and get an inspection before putting it on the market.  A few hundred dollars will save a lot of aggravation.  We have a client here in the Phoenix area that we just recommended it to, as we know that there are some issues.  Better to know and fix upfront than to have to negotiate it later
Nov 30, 2006 10:43 AM #15
David Love
David Alan Love, Realtors - Merced, CA

In California, old fuse boxes present a problem for most insurers also. It's always a good idea to get inspections done early not just on older properties, but also those with obvious deferred maintenance no matter how old.

Nov 30, 2006 01:52 PM #16
If I could figure out how to save this entry to "favorites" I would.  I may refer prospects to this post, or copy it if you don't mind to use with 1 more reason to get a pre-listing inspection.
Nov 30, 2006 03:35 PM #17
Lenny Gurvich
Keller Williams Realty Tampa, Florida - Tampa, FL
Thanks for all the comments gang. Ginger's take notwithstanding, if a home in Florida has active knob and tube wiring, Citizens will not insure it. Citizens is about the only option for my client on a home of this age. They are the state-run insurers of last resort. Obtaining insurance is a big problem in Florida as you may or may not know. Even if we could find insurance from another source, the inspector notes many dangers with the manner in which it was installed . 
Dec 01, 2006 12:14 AM #18
Lenny Gurvich
Keller Williams Realty Tampa, Florida - Tampa, FL

K & T rears its ugly head once again in a bank-owned home. SOmeone had replaced all outlets and spliced in new wiring to the knob and tube in the walls! Same issue-no insurer will write coverage until the K and T is removed.


May 14, 2009 03:29 AM #19
David Salvato
David Home Inspection Service Home Inspector San Bernardino - Los Angeles, CA

I have had clients that had trouble getting homeowners insurance because of knob and tube wiring.

Liberty Mutual will insure most homes with knob and tube wiring. But it's been hit an miss.


Sep 08, 2009 02:56 AM #20
Sarah Pease

We have a contract to buy a 1925 home in Florida.  Seller did not disclose knob and tube wiring, but electrical inspector said it is in 70% of the house.  Inspector said it is failing and should be replaced, at cost of $6000.  Seller refuses to fix it.  We cannot get a loan without k&t being repaired.  If seller won't fix it, and his insurance company gets wind of this, they will drop him.  He still doesn't get it.  Looks like this deal may be a no-go for us.  But he won't be able to sell it to anyone else either.bakuri

Jan 18, 2011 09:01 AM #21

"Personally, I live in a farmhouse built in 1754.  I think Ben Franklin was the initial electrician.  We bought the property as is, and immediately had to dump about $9000 into upgrading the electric, including getting rid of the knob and tube...."

Knob and Tube wiring is fine if it's still in good shape.  Obviously if the electrical system has functioned well for a hundered years so it's not inherently unsafe.   GFCI circuit protection can be added to knob and tube:

Dec 14, 2011 07:14 PM #22
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